Friday, December 31, 2010

My plans for 2011

So it's New Year's Eve and therefore time to make my resolutions. I feel like putting them in writing on the blogosphere makes them harder to break, and holds me more accountable. I just looked up last year's New Year's resolution post and, well, I think I did okay. I fell down on the running at the tail end of this year (no pun intended), and I did struggle a bit with the whole "not comparing myself to others" bit. But I did gain a measure of control over my life, and feel much more like the master of my own destiny at this point. I'm looking forward to 2011 to growing stronger in that resolve.

But now for next year. There are only a few resolutions, but they are multi-layered with various components that I think will help me achieve them. Caveat: because of the really long winter break from work, I'm starting all of this on the 4th so I still have 4 days of hedonism. So without further ado, let's take a look at my self-styled future.

Lose weight.
Yar, yar, yes I know. Everyone says the same thing every year. But. Friends, I am fat. This corresponds with me not really running anymore, and not really practicing yoga. You may say, oh, it's okay, D. But it isn't: I took a dress to Dublin to wear on Christmas and IT DIDN'T FIT - I couldn't zip it up. Full disclosure: I am 5'4", not that tall, and I am fluctuating around 10 stone 10 lbs (that is 150 for the Americans). That is unacceptable both for my self-esteem and my health, not to mention my wardrobe. I have two weddings to attend in April, one of which I will be a bridesmaid in, so this needs to be resolved. ASAP.

The plan is thus:

1. Detox January and February
That means: no alcohol, no sugar, no meat for the first 2 weeks and lean meats thereafter. I'm keeping coffee with sugar, because I can't get rid of everything, but am limiting myself to one cup per day. There will be little exceptions, of course, but I am really excited to have my insides feel clean again.

2. Improved diet
The Irishman and I really like to eat. It's true, and it's not a bad thing. But we have jointly decided that we need to limit our restaurant eating, and when we do it we should go to the really amazing restaurants we always read about rather than little dinky places that aren't worth the money or the takeaways to which we've recently been defaulting. We are signing up for a veg box from Farm Direct, which I'm really excited about because I love the idea of having to cook something that I wouldn't typically choose. Plus we're supporting UK farmers and eating food that is in season, which is clearly win-win.

3. Training for a marathon
I turn 30 this year (gaaaah) and feel like I need to achieve something spectacular to prove to myself that I won't shrivel up and die. I successfully completed the half marathon earlier this year, so I think it's the right time. The Irishman and I decided to be realistic so we're aiming for the Dublin Marathon in October for 3 reasons: it's flat, we have free accommodation, and we have all summer to train (rather than starting to train NOW). Apparently there is also really good crowd support which is crucial. So I'm going to start running now to get myself in shape, and start training seriously in May. My office will be moving from Clerkenwell to London Bridge in April-ish, and there are promises of a shower in the building so I will hopefully be running either to or from work by then. I promise the blog won't be all about running all of the time. I hope.

4. Recommit to yoga
There are pictures of me from 2006 when, funnily enough, I was a bridesmaid, and I looked good. Really good. And I realized that it was because I was practicing yoga 2, sometimes 3, nights a week for an entire sweaty summer. I was also using Dove Self-Tanning Lotion religiously, but that's besides the point - my glow was more from an entirely toned body and mind. And I miss that. So I'm going to make that same promise to myself that I did so long ago - yoga nights are sacred, working late is not an option, and I am going to go to class and actually be IN the class rather than thinking about getting home to the sofa and some pasta. There is a new studio around the corner from my flat called Pop-Up Yoga and my lovely yogi Kim is expanding her yoga empire so clearly I have no excuse for not getting back into my vinyasas, stat. To encourage me, I'm getting a new mat and some new yoga togs. But that leads me to...

Be better with money.
It is a truth that I have been avoiding for a while: I am terrible with money. I save and then I spend my savings; I waste money like it's water, and I am generally just not in control of my assets. When I lived in New York, I was really responsible. I had a 401k, a Roth IRA, and a decent savings account balance. Here, I am not really saving for my future and I'm practically in my overdraft every month. I'm not in trouble, but I know that one day I will need money I don't have put away and it is starting to stress me out. So the plan is:

1. Stop spending
This is hard for me. THE SALES ARE ON. I went into Brown Thomas in Dublin and nearly weeped. I haven't gone into town; Liberty at the moment would be too hard for me. I sort of feel like an addict who's gone cold turkey. Sadness. I allowed myself 1 purchase, this pair of shoes to wear with this bridesmaid dress for my friend's wedding in April:

They were 50% off and free shipping and returns, so, you know. And now, I'm done. Sigh. The new yoga mat will happen soon, but not until after the January paycheck. And any new yoga clothes will be cheap-o-s from Decathlon - it's silly to spend a lot of money on togs you essentially just sweat in. It's going to be hard, but I think worth it.

2. Save more
Currently, I put a paltry £100 in my savings account each month, and, as I said, I more often than not use the full amount for some sort of expense after a few months. So as of January I'm upping my savings account contribution to at least £200 per month, and locking it down. It's not to be used at all. For anything. Ever.

3. Be less wasteful
This goes along with some of the things I'm doing to lose weight. I want to waste less food - eat what we have and not let it rot in the fridge. Hence the veg box. And I want us to spend our money more wisely - thus going to nicer restaurants less often, rather than defaulting to going out to dinner. We have a lot of big expenses coming up in 2011 (3 weddings! 2 big trips! 1 big birthday!) so I'd rather us spend it where it counts rather than pissing it away on crap.

Be more creative
This one is big for me. I have been whining for a while to The Irishman and friends of mine from my design program in college that I've found myself creatively stifled for a while now. While I work in the design industry and am surrounded by creativity (managing it is my job), I'm finding that my contribution is paltry. I knit some stuff, usually baby gifts, and make Christmas cards once a year, and that's about it. I want to get back to making and doing, rather than consuming. I've decided, then, to:

1. Keep a sketchbook
I haven't done this in like, 8 years. I used to have at least 3 on the go at any one point in college and now I just tag shit on the internet. I'm going to go down to Cass Art today and get one, and stick all of the lovely stuff in it that I find and sketch out all of the lovely ideas I have in my brain. The first inclusion? A beautiful Dutch house profiled in Grazia few weeks back and the Christmas card of a beautifully stylized penguin from my friend Allison.

2. Take screenprinting classes
I've been stalking this workshop for 6 months to get in on a weekend class and I'm finally booked in for the end of January! I used to make prints of various kinds all of the time in college, and I miss the feeling of having dirty hands. I can't wait to get back into it.

3. Make more, buy less
This goes along with spending less. I'm currently making knitted throw pillows for my bed. I'm going refinish a table in our house, rather than buy a new one. I'm framing my own art for the wall, rather than buying some. In short, I'll help the economy by buying supplies rather than buying someone else's stuff.

So that's it. 2011 in a nutshell. Ambitious? Maybe. Inspiring? For me it is. I'm actually really looking forward to self-improvement, and starting my 30s right. But now, I'm off to go make the last batch of chocolate-chip cookies I'm allowed to devour.

Happy New Year, everyone! xx

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dublin wrap-up and now the wind-down

Happy holidays to everyone! I hope you had a warm and cosy holiday with you and yours wherever you were/are. If you're in the US, I hope you went sledding for me - the snow in Dublin melted away way before I had a chance to even inquire as to where I could purchase a flying saucer.

As you know, we trekked to Liverpool on Christmas Eve to fly to Belfast as the flights to and from Dublin were severely messed up due to the snow in Dublin. Well, when we flew into Belfast we encountered this view:

The air in Belfast had been so cold for so long that the snow froze to all surfaces, including trees, making the landscape look like a magical winter garden. It was amazing and a really lovely sight after traveling all day.

When we finally got to Dublin, we had a whirlwind 5 days of family and friends. We met babies, we went to a funeral, we went sightseeing, and we hung out. I love going to The Irishman's family for the sheer volume of people - the festive meal this year was 14 and there are constantly people coming in and out of the house. It's really bubbly and wonderful. Here I am giving the meal a thumbs up with The Irishman's brother. We are at the kids table, obvs.

I also partook in the Dublin Christmas ritual of swimming off the Forty Foot - in the sea. Let me now tell you how that was the worst cold I have ever experienced but I loved it. I immediately lost feeling in my hands and feet, and once I got out of the water I had pins and needles all over my body, but you really get a feeling of inner warmth radiating from your core and the shower you take afterwards is the most delicious shower you will ever experience. Here I am paddling to the steps, trying to get out of the water; that's The Irishman's MOM in the water in front of me! She swims there every day, no matter the season. Jeebus.

But we're back in London, with a relatively smooth flight home from Dublin yesterday, and relishing the time alone with quiet and no forced indulgence. Yesterday was the first day we didn't gorge ourselves on meat, wine, cheese, and other deliciousness and I must say I sort of feel like I'm in withdrawal: I miss the 4 different kinds of breakfast meat in a full Irish breakfast!

We are spending the rest of our fabulously long Christmas break here in London, relaxing, and taking advantage of the city that we seem to always be leaving. Tonight we're going out for sushi and to the disco of a friend's wedding (the dancing part of a reception), and tomorrow we'll chef up a nice meal and head down to the Thames to watch the fireworks usher in 2011. We've got Sunday lunch booked at The Sportsman in Whitstable, a little seaside village I've been dying to visit for years, and we're planning to hit up The Saatchi Gallery at some point before we go back to work. (wait, we have to go back?!)

As 2010 is drawing to a close and it's the time for reflection and planning, I'll be posting over the next few days about my requisite New Year's resolutions, some thoughts I've been mulling over, and the usual self-improvement-type-plans. I'm looking forward to reading everyone else's as well, so feel free to share in the comments and your own blogs/social networks/etc. Until then, here I am with The Irishman on the pier in Dublin standing in front of epic storm clouds and rolling seas, wearing a polar bear hat. Hopefully that gives you some indication of how I plan to approach 2011. xx

Friday, December 24, 2010

Liveblogging our Christmas voyage

After last night's travel debacle, we scoured the interwebs for weather reports and forecasts and cheap available fares. We are now booked on a Virgin train from London Euston to Liverpool, where we will get a flight to Belfast. The Irishman's brother will drive us back to Dublin where last night they got another 8 INCHES OF SNOW! I'm starting to think that if we get there, we may not get back.

So here we go... I'll try to update as often as I can with anecdotes from the journey.

8:10: we're leaving the house early... Just in case.

8:35: first coffee of the day - I'm thinking there will be many today.

8:48: It is dog central in Euston Station!!! I've seen so far 1 Leonberger, 1 Bichon Frise, 2 English Cocker Spaniels, 1 Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. So cute!

8:54: They just announced the train platform for the train to Holyhead where the ferry to Dublin departs, and about 1/3 of the people in the waiting area bolted for the train. It was sheer pandemonium and I'd venture to say it was close to the population of one Irish county. The Irishman has done this train before and it's apparently 5 hrs long so they were all rushing for the good seats. Insert disparaging Irish jokes of your choosing here.

9:01: Platform announced for our train to Liverpool and we join our own (albeit) smaller scrum. Thank god we have seats.

9:17: Delayed - we're waiting for train crew (!) - can't this thing drive itself?

9:25: Our flight to Belfast is already delayed - eff. It's only 10 minutes, but still. Eff.

9:30: Crying baby in our carriage. WE HAVEN'T EVEN LEFT LONDON YET.

9:38: And we're off!! Only 21 minutes late!

9:41: Shit, where did that sun come from? I didn't pack my shades.

9:43: Ok, I'm signing off to finish knitting The Irishman's mother's Christmas present. More soon.

10:21: Sheep in snow-covered fields! How cute! I wonder if their wool will be denser after this winter?

10:23: The Irishman and I plan to sled in Dublin #silverlining

10:48: Crap I forgot my yarn needle, and can't finish making up. #christmasfail

11:17: The Irishman's brother just called. Apparently the roads in both Northern Ireland (NI) and Republic of Ireland (RoI) are the worst they've been all week. OMG what if we get stuck in Belfast?!

11:28: Flight check - still only 10 minute delay. We are 20 minutes from Liverpool, so more when we get to the airport.

11:55: Our flight delay was reversed! Things are looking up, on this side of the Irish Sea at least.

12:04: In a taxi to John Lennon Airport. Our taxi driver decorated his cab for Christmas, and rewarded me with a proper Liverpudlian accent. Check!

13:15: We got to the airport and our scouser cabbie ripped us off by claiming he didn't have change. Hmph. I guess I can chalk it up to an authentic Liverpudlian experience.. But now we've checked in, made it through security, and about to tuck into some surprisingly appetizing Subway sandwiches. Reports from Ireland are comforting - the roads look ok. Fingers are still crossed though.

13:58: To commemorate our trip up here, I just purchased a yellow submarine magnet for my collection.

14:06: We are at the gate. No plane yet, but a long line of Irish people are waiting expectantly.

14:15: Good news - our plane is here! Bad news - I count at least half dozen babies in the waiting area and many of them are crying. At once.

14:34: ON THE PLANE!!!!

14:46: About to take off. Irish brother 10 miles from Belfast airport. I'm signing off for now, will update this when we've arrived... Wherever that may be!

15:44: We just landed in Belfast. It is -5 deg C and everything is covered in snow. The Irishman calculated that this flight cost us £3 per minute. I can't think about that - I need to pee.

16:01: Checked bag claimed and we are off. I'll check back in to let you all know that we got to Dublin okay. Until then, start making merry with your families - wherever you are!

Epilogue: We made it to Dublin last night around 7:30... Greeted with hugs and wine, my favorites. I'm signing off now and hope you all have a very Merry Christmas!! xx

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Le sigh

So I'm back in my apartment, waiting for the heat to kick in. Why, you may ask, as I was supposed to be halfway across the Irish Sea by now. But I'm sure you can guess - Dublin got EVEN MORE SNOW and closed the airport at 7:00, just as I was about to settle in at the Stansted Wetherspoon. After lugging our stuff all the way to the airport via two trains and dealing with security, we got a phone call from The Irishman's brother saying that the airport closed so they could clear the runways. Ryanair then cancelled all of the remaining Dublin-bound flights and we had a comical few minutes trying to figure out how to get out of the airport - one can't just go back through security! (they have to lead you out a secret passage to baggage claim, in case you were wondering).

So we came home, dejected, and ran through all of the potential possibilities - ferry from Holyhead (after a 5 hour train ride), or flights from Manchester or Liverpool to Belfast. We decided not to wait to see if Ryanair would put on more flights tomorrow from London as apparently there is supposed to be really bad fog in Dublin tomorrow. The Irishman is sitting at his laptop cursing Easyjet as our new flights that were supposed to be £75 per person were hiked to £96 per person at check out.

We're leaving tomorrow first thing for the train station to go to Liverpool and then getting a flight from John Lennon International Airport (the silver lining - what a rockin' airport to go to!) to Belfast where The Irishman's brother will pick us up and drive us home (only apparently a two-hour drive).

SO. Watch this space. I'm now going to crack open my Christmas cookies and try to relax. Hmph.

Still worried...

Well, Dublin Airport was closed again today for snow and we're waiting for it to reopen momentarily. Ryanair hasn't cancelled our flight yet but it's looking iffy.


But on the light-hearted side, check out this bulletin on Ryanair's site (the link is on their homepage). It made me chuckle and remember that despite all of the stress and craziness, Christmas is all about wonder and excitement.

My first go at Christmas cut-outs

In my family, Christmas cookies are a BIG DEAL. Every year, my mom makes anywhere from 6-10 different types of cookies from bars to balls with everything in-between. It's become somewhat of a ritual for my brother and I to make yearly requests for our favorites.

But the one non-negotiable variety is the Kris Kringle cut-out. My mom is famous for these soft, buttery shaped cookies with a light almond icing. My brother considers himself a cut-out connoisseur and will critique each batch she makes (but always eats them all).

This year, after realising that Irish Christmas dessert is made up solely of boozy fruity cake, I decided it was high time that I learn the craft of the cut-out. With stern admonishments of keeping the family recipe a secret and a few tips, my mom emailed me the recipe and The Irishman and I broke out his mixer to get cracking.

We made the dough on Tuesday night to allow it to chill properly, and started rolling last night.

We used cookie cutters from Mom-Mom, including a rather large angel shape - those cookies will be mine!

The first batch ready to go in the oven!

We had a hard time getting the oven to the right temperature as it is a fan-oven and runs really hot, but in the end we got a respectable crop of deliciousness. The Irishman is working from home today before our departure and going to ice them for me.

So whether it's in Ireland or London, I'm having cookies this Christmas and I can't be happier.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Update: Nail biting!!!

Ok so yesterday I told you all that we may face our first Christmas on our own due to all of the potential flight delays. Well, since my post at noon yesterday it has only gotten worse.

16:00 21 Dec: After nearly a foot of snow falling in Dublin, Dublin Airport was CLOSED until 8am today
22:00 21 Dec: BBC Weather forecasts freezing fog at Stansted Airport for the next few days (!!)
08:00 22 Dec: Dublin Airport reopens with delays and cancellations but Ryanair has cancelled most of its flights from London to Dublin because their aircraft aren't in the right places.

Our flight hasn't taken off for the last 3 nights.


The Irishman and I made cookie dough last night (more on that later) and contingency plans for a festive meal together on Christmas Day if we do get stuck here, but I think we'll both be really disappointed. All we can do though is wait - we have no idea what tomorrow will be like.

Fingers crossed we make it - and that my fingernails stay intact!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The shortest day of the year

No where else I've lived has the shortest day of the year been so full of portent. It is noon and within three hours it will get dark. But that means that as of tomorrow it will start getting lighter earlier and by the time it's my birthday in March we'll start to see some real progress towards 16 hours of sunlight.

The Irishman and I are facing some serious travel disruptions to our holiday plans. With the issues at Heathrow and Gatwick, we thought we'd escape the madness by flying out of Stansted. But the Met Office is predicting snowfall tonight into tomorrow for north of London and despite Ryanair's dedication to getting their planes up and out of the airports on the dot we may not have much luck. Especially as we're flying out at 8pm and everyone knows delays compound throughout the day.

So we may have to go pick up some sort of meat and have it on the ready, and a few movies on standby, just in case we're here having a cosy Christmas for two. Fingers crossed!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

…everywhere you go. Take a look at the five & ten, glistening once again, with candycanes and silver lanes aglow."

I woke up this morning to the absolute silence that accompanies real snow - not just flurries but a real snowstorm - and The Irishman's snow report. The UK was under a snow warning and all of the London airports were shut or had most of their flights cancelled in preparation for the onslaught. The snow hit us around 10am and within an hour we had driving snow covering the roads, the trees, everything!

But instead of sitting on the sofa, drinking hot cocoa and finishing the knitting projects that are to be Christmas gifts, I had some work to do. Unfortunately, this year The Irishman has been a grinch. While I've been happily putting up the tree and all of our decorations, drinking mulled wine and eating my Cadbury advent calendar, he has been slowly avoiding the Christmas cheer. I'm not sure why, and he isn't really telling, but it may be the fact that we went to the US for 2.5 weeks and returned to find the Christmas season in full-swing. I don't think he had a chance to ease into the holidays and therefore has been ignoring it to the point that HE HASN'T DONE ANY OF HIS CHRISTMAS SHOPPING. And with the weather forecast calling for more and more snow, his de facto option of Amazon ordering is effectively not an option.

So today we suited up and took to the high street to start and finish all of the shopping at once. Holy Jesus, I know it's your birthday but leaving shopping to the weekend before Christmas is horrible. It was HARD. I prefer to do my shopping early and precisely, to avoid these situations, but The Irishman apparently does not. But you know what? Somehow, strolling down the street in 4 inches of snow really did make it feel like Christmas. People were nicer. The shops looked cuter. And I really felt like I earned the mulled wine I treated myself to in the end.

And for the record: The Irishman has declared he is ready for Christmas. Maybe because the Christmas shopping is done. Phew.

Friday, December 17, 2010

I'm still drunk.

It's true.

Last night was our company Christmas party. Apparently the parties before I got to London were legendary: booked out clubs, red carpet dressing up, the whole shebang. But unfortunately I moved here in 2008 right before the market crash and so ever since we've been having pub lock-ins in our company's local. Which is some ways much better - and much much worse.

Yesterday I made a major schoolgirl error and missed lunch due to back-to-back meetings, which meant I started drinking at 4. Sometime in the evening it started snowing making me love the party more, and I apparently stumbled into the darkness around 12:30am. I don't remember it but I did get in a cab and it only cost £7!

The Irishman tells me that I came home and tried to sleep in my coat and also sang him a few songs about how our flat smells like cabbage (it's true, we cooked brussel sprouts the other night and the smell won't leave). This morning I found my clothes all over, my bag in the middle of the hallway, and my shoes under a table.

Luckily our entire office is in a similar state so our lovely office catering manager is ordering in bacon and sausage sarnies for us all. I'm trying to take it easy but I have actual work to do and I also have to subject myself to the Post Office to get stamps for my Christmas card.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tis the season for pickpockets and protesters!

Today I had three encounters with the sadder side of the holidays. On the bus this morning, the driver made an announcement that two boys wearing bright green gloves had been picking pockets on the 38 bus and urged us to be vigilant. For the record, I think it's slightly ludicrous to wear a noticeably bright color if you're going to engage in bad behavior and I found myself with the urge to tell those boys to keep their hands to themselves.

When I got off of the bus, I saw signs up on the telephone polls warning thieves THE METROPOLITAN POLICE ARE WATCHING YOU and WE KNOW YOU OPERATE IN THIS AREA and WE ARE TARGETING YOU. Scary! I wonder how many break-ins had to happen for the police to make these signs and install them.

And finally, on my way home from work, I passed by a small protest outside of a church hosting Carols by Candlelight. There must have been a MP in attendance, because someone exited the church and they started on their chant of "Make the bankers pay!" and "No ifs and no buts repeal all the cuts!"

I know that the budget cuts in Britain are hard, and I'm lucky that I'm somewhat sheltered from them. Yesterday the government announced just how much each local council was going to receive (or not) from the government, and I can imagine that come April when the cuts truly take effect that I will notice small unpleasant changes in Islington. But today I was reminded that I'm in the minority and that this recession really is affecting people - and they're not going to take it lying down.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What a week(end)

Oh, people.

This post took many forms in my head over the last 72 hours or so but only now am I finding some clear headspace to write it all down. Basically, the gist is that I've been bested by some Irish. Specifically, The Irishman's family.

Mum arrived on Tuesday for a few days of R&R and sightseeing. The Irishman took Tuesday and Wednesday off from work to hang out with her and I escaped from work after a half day on Tuesday to join them for lunch, a show (The Mousetrap) and rinkside mulled wine at Somerset House and dinner at Tom's Kitchen. Wednesday I had to work and met them after their action-packed day in Knightsbridge and Kensington (they roll posh) at Daphne's - a lovely restaurant that apparently was a favorite of Princess Di's.

Mum left Thursday afternoon, just missing her other son, The Irishman's brother, as he rocked up with The Irishman's cousin and a good friend of theirs Thursday evening for a lads weekend SLEEPING ON MY FLOOR. ALL OF THEM. I can report that my flat smelled like man for three days straight, I had to suffer about 1 million games of Guitar Hero and we went through probably 6 rolls of toilet paper. The Irishman and I both took Friday off from work to hang with the lads and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, but let me say that I am pooped. I ate dinner in a restaurant for 5 days straight which made me feel like I wanted to die with fullness twice. I took like a gazillion cab rides, which is so indulgent and SO expensive, and drank probably 10 gallons of wine (not all at the same time). Basically, I am a shell of my former self.

So today, finally, we got our flat back to ourselves. We did 3 loads of laundry, made some restoratively healthy soup, set up our Christmas tree (hurrah!) and basically just relaxed. I would now prefer to never eat again and potentially hibernate from this point forward. Too bad I have to do it all over again (!!!) in two weeks with the same folks in Ireland. God help me.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Spotted: Twinkle, Twinkle

Excellent thread for a Friday: London date spots

Earlier this week Krista over in Chicago wrote this lovely post with her suggestion for the perfect date in London. I know a few bloggers like Betsy have posted about how they met their lovely guys, but I thought the perfect blog topic for a cold Friday would be to invite all the London ladies to post their own preferred date spots. I'll go first, and everyone who wants to join in please post on your blog and I'll link to you tomorrow.

So in no particular order... my perfect London date spots.

When the Irishman and I first met, he was in the process of moving down to the Isle of Dogs so this pick has a special place in our hearts. Now, I wouldn't recommend hanging out on the Isle of Dogs, but its chief recommendation is the proximity to the village of Greenwich. There are underwater tunnels from the Isle of Dogs to the town, or you can take a Thames Clipper boat from Central London to the village for approximately £5. The village has a market and some lovely shops and an excellent Banh Mi truck but also hosts the Maritime College and Observatory - home of the Greenwich Meantime line. For a first or second date, going over to Greenwich for a wander is a lovely afternoon and almost like a day out of the city.

I love this restaurant. It's our neighborhood bistro, though the recent shift in format left the price-to-food-ratio a little steep. Nonetheless, it's casual yet intimate, quiet yet comfortable with amazing Michelin-star-quality food. You can have a really lovely tete-a-tete surrounded by other couples yet feel like you're the only people in the world.

MsMarmite's Underground Restaurant
This may seem like an odd one, but there is nothing like an out-of-the-ordinary experience to help you decide whether or not someone is a keeper - so a meal at secret restaurant is a pretty good measure. The Irishman and I went to a dinner at MsMarmite's that was astrology-themed and most of the attendees were actually astrologers. So if that wasn't a turn off for him (it was my idea) then I don't think anything will. But MsMarmite's underground restaurant, situated in her front room, is absolutely amazing and so is she. I wouldn't be surprised if she helped a budding romance along with a sprinkle of cupid seasoning in her food if she thought it helpful.

The Harlequin
The Irishman will kill me for posting this, because this is one of our favorite pubs that we call The Secret Pub for good reason, but I figure it's better to share it in the hope that it stays open forever. It's sort of hidden behind Sadlers Wells Theatre and is a good, all-round boozer with an open fire place, excellent mulled wine, and a great cheese board. It is only full before, during intermission, and after shows at Sadlers Wells and otherwise it's the kind of place that you can go and have a lovely drink and a chat without jostling for a seat or being shoved at the bar. It's the perfect place to meet before going out, or to stop into after a walk through town.

32 Great Queen Street
This is actually just one of our favorite restaurants, but they serve homey, lovely English fare in a dim red room that is comfy and cosy while still buzzy. It's right in the middle of Covent Garden so you can go there and share a meal for two and then wander to any of the pubs or bars in the area, or just head home...

I just heard about this place. It is a glitzy cocktail bar/club/restaurant with a bouncer at the door that features a huge central table on which circus acts like gymnasts and burlesque dancers perform every 25 minutes. It's loud, it's sexy, the cocktails are amazing and expensive, and it's a lot of fun. If you want to go all out and impress a date, it's the place to go.

So ladies and gentlemen... where do you take your special someone? I can't wait to read everyone's posts!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

City Cat and Country Cat

Editor's note: I started this post on Tuesday and am only now finishing it and posting it. Apologies for the delay in weekend reporting!

This past weekend, the Irishman and I spent an enjoyable Sunday in Salisbury where some of his uni friends as well as friends of theirs who have become our friends as well. They, and we, and another uni friend who lives in Portsmouth spent the day bouncing babies and eating a lovely Sunday roast in front of a rather large fire in an old country pub while drinking entirely too much wine. When it came time for us to bundle up and head to the train for our return to London, I had one of those moments of desperation that equates, roughly, with "what am I doing with my life". Why am I busting my butt to earn a decent wage to afford my centrally located shoebox apartment? Why am I risking breaking my ankle tottering around in shoe-boots on ice in order to look fashion-fierce in an industry focused on image? Why am I always worried about things that, when the weekend comes, always seem so inconsequential? WHY DON'T I HAVE A DOG?!

Sometimes when I come back from being a Country Cat, hanging out in a small village and enjoying the simple pleasures of food, friends, and family, I start to think about whether I may be approaching the time when I need to make the life changes that scare me the most: moving out of the city, rethinking my career, essentially settling down. Those decisions feel like such a failure to someone like me who has spent most of my adult life stomping through the windy corridors of big international cities with reckless abandon. To admit to myself that I might not want to live like that anymore is absolutely terrifying - it's what I know and [I thought] I love. But maybe it's not enough anymore?

Mom-Mom said something particularly interesting to me about all of this nonsense over the summer; she asked me, and I quote: "when are you going to stop running around wasting time and settle down and start living your life?" She of course was referencing getting married and having babies and at the time, I told her that I was in fact living my life and that I liked it at the moment thankyouverymuch. But recently I had an epiphany and it dawned on me just what she was asking me and I realized that I don't really have the answer. Because saying to myself that having the right Chanel nail polish isn't actually living is a pretty big statement and blows a big hole in the identity I've fashioned for myself up to now. Going further and asking myself what I'm building and creating and making with my life right now, besides a very fashionable collection of insensible footwear, deepens the hole and makes me question whether I'm a City Cat after all.

Yikes. How deep! Weekend afternoons in the country aren't supposed to be so thought-provoking! But to be honest, it's probably been a long time coming. I'm rapidly approaching 30 (deep breath, exhale) and I suppose all people start to review their current life-states at that point. So I'm going to roll with it, and see where it leads me. I'm not sure whether it will be outside of the M25, but I suspect it may lead to more cooking, more moderation, and more realistic expectations of who and what I want to be.

But hopefully still some gorgeously in-sensible shoes.

Carvela Ganges

Spotted: Somerset House Skate

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Happy Hanukkah: a tribute

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah, the festival of light when Jews celebrate the miracle of one oil lantern burning in a ruined temple for eight nights. To celebrate, I dug out my menorah and lit the first candle and the Irishman and I shared some Cadbury chocolate coins (gelt to the Heebs). I'm only half Jewish, culturally at that, so marking the holiday is more of a symbolic gesture than religious celebration. Mostly, the practice centers on remembering how two smart women in my life have did such a good job of helping me to fully understand my faith. My mother is Catholic and my paternal grandmother is Jewish, and throughout my childhood they collaborated to make sure that I learned all facets of both faiths. At Christmas time, we always had a tree and a menorah, Christmas cookies and latkes and dreidels, and read books about Hanukkah while listening to Christmas carols. Around Easter time, we always went to grandma's for Passover and even today at 26 my brother has to do the youngest child part; after not eating meat on Fridays, we cut out bread for the week. I am so proud of my family for being so liberal and magnanimous in my and my brother's religious education, and for giving us the breadth and depth of religious understanding and tolerance of two of the world's oldest and intertwined religions. Even in the 21st century, it can be hard to reconcile interfaith relationships and people of different beliefs living side by side, so every year around this time I remember how trailblazing my parents were to raise me straddling two beliefs and allow me to choose my own way.